WKU agriculture expanding availability of local food

Casey Downey

Concealed alongside 31-W Bypass there are 800 acres where cattle and horses graze. Winding roads lead the way through pastures where the city fades from sight. Though WKU established the WKU Farm in 1934, many students are clueless about its existence and its relationship with the local food market.

Paul Woosley, associate professor of agriculture, said the department is trying to find a long-term place to sell the produce grown on the farm, which has been an issue in the past.

Woosley believes one problem within the industry is its invisibility to much of the general public, he said.

“We have such a small population of people that live and work on farms, there is a bit of a disconnect between the general population,” Woosley said. “But one thing we can agree on is how important food is. We all care about what we eat.”

Although there is a substantial amount of dairy, beef and produce accumulated by the farm, they currently do not have a store to distribute the perishables. All of the milk goes to Purity Dairies while most of the grapes are sent to local school cafeterias. The meat is distributed to local vendors. Woosley said they are trying to find a permanent arrangement for selling their food.

Martin Stone, associate professor of agriculture, specializes in horticulture with a primary focus in local food. Through a grant called Local Food for Everyone awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he co-founded the community’s first farmers market three years ago.

The market is part of the growing Community Supported Agriculture movement, which helps connect local farmers to the public.

Stone said the number of farmers markets in the United States has more than doubled over the past decade.

“There is a lot of awareness lately to local food, and there is an entire local food movement that is creating this interest in local food, and we think it’s a good thing,” he said. “It helps the local economy and farmers, and it’s fresher. People like to look their farmers in the eye.”

Through the CSA, there is an emphasis on providing fresh food to low-income citizens and seniors who are enrolled through Electronic Benefit Transfer and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

People in the community can sign up to acquire boxes of fresh produce each week through a farmer of choice. The group is also taking measures to provide access to fresh food anywhere it isn’t easily accessed, like downtown Bowling Green.

“We’ve had a local market in the downtown area with the Warren County Health Department and sold out of everything in an hour,” Stone said. “People downtown don’t have access to local food.”

They are currently remodeling a van which will act as a mobile-market, appearing at local schools and community events. The van will make its debut at the Health Department on Oct. 2.

Since the farmers market was first established three years ago, Stone has seen huge growth in the community’s interest in local food.

“The first year there were only six of us and now we have to turn people away because there isn’t room…We’re seeing people that are leaving their jobs and becoming full-time farmers,” Stone said. “So that is job creation at work.

“The farmers market function as a small business incubator, which is great for the community — especially the customers.”